Whether working as a self-employed electrician or on the payroll of a firm within the sector, the changes to the smoke alarm legislation in Queensland will affect the job that you are doing. Make sure that you are fully up to speed with the new legislation as the timed rollout will impact on new builds and renovation works, in domestic and work settings, that have to have smoke alarms fitted.
The changes came into effect back in 1st January 2017, as a result of the 2011 fatal Slacks Creek fire, a tragedy that no one wants to see repeated. The recommendations on changing to photelectric smoke alarms came from discussions with the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services and are based on their extensive experience. Even though there is a phased roll out of the new standards, there will be an increase in the demand for qualified electricians who are needed to fit the interconnected units. The rental market alone comprises a sizeable number of properties that have to be brought up to the required standard and landlords will be pushing for work to be completed before they hit the next deadline.
Whenever there is such a demand in the market, it is really important for those qualified to fit and install these systems, to keep themselves safe. Even though the client is pushing for a quick finish to the work, health and safety does come first, so let’s look at the right way to work safe in terms of smoke alarm installations.
Choose the right product
New properties and those that have been substantially renovated, have to have interconnected Australian Standard 3786-2014 photoelectric smoke alarms like the LIF5800RL/2 and LIF5800/2 smoke alarm, the LIF10YPEW or the wireless interlink base, LIFWMB2. These have to be fitted by 1 January 2022 in leased or sold homes and by 1 January 2027, in all other homes, and hardwired 240v smoke alarms have to be fitted by a qualified electrician.
Make sure that the product you are fitting conforms to the correct AS standard. A reputable smoke alarm company will publish all the manufacturers’ product sheets and installation information on their website, to assist with the safe installation of these alarms.
Identify key risks
There are a number of risks faced by electricians when installing photoelectric smoke alarms and these are linked to the working conditions and type of build and area of installation. Ensure you or your employer have carried out a proper evaluation of the job and ensure risk assessments are in place to ensure safe working.
The most common risks faced are:
- Working at height
- Working in enclosed spaces
- Working in heat
- Contact with asbestos containing material (ACM)
Working at height
Smoke alarms are fitted above head level which could mean, particularly in an older property, working in homes or offices with a high ceiling space. If ladders are used, these should be checked to ensure they are in good condition. Users should maintain three points of contact (hands, feet, body) on the ladder and the ladder should be used according to proper instruction. Wherever possible, the ladder should be secured firmly at the base or held by another person if angled away from a wall. If working in a ceiling space, then make sure there is sufficient light to ensure that the electrician can see and step securely on joists or beams, instead of the ceiling material as this will increase the likelihood of a fall. Make sure that someone else knows that the electrician is working in the ceiling space and keeps in contact with them until the work is completed.
Working in enclosed spaces
As noted above, when installing a photoelectric smoke alarm system, it may require access to a loft or ceiling space. Before entering this form of enclosed space, it is important to isolate the electricity and turn it off at the switchboard. Then using a torch or portable light, before starting any work in what will be an unfamiliar area, take note of any existing risks that could be hazardous to health.
This means checking if there are vermin in the roof space (posing hazards such as bites or Weils Disease from the urine of rats or they could have gnawed through protective cabling leaving wires exposed). Check for sharp objects, low or awkward corners that could require stooping and twisting, high temperatures, poor lighting, ACM’s or electrical conductors, such as solar conductors or consumer mains that cannot be de energised.
Managing these risks means letting someone else know where and when you are going to be at work in these areas. Use portable lights or a torch to enable better visibility in the ceiling or loft space and wear the appropriate protective clothing. If there are electrical conductors, test to ensure the conductive foil insulation is not energised and avoid any contact with electric cabling, equipment and fittings. This also means using manual tools or battery-operated ones, where possible. Plan your route across a ceiling, using joists and beams, as well as avoiding any obstacles that could cause a slip, trip or fall.
Working in heat
Doing any form of work in humid and hot spaces is going to be uncomfortable. Ceiling spaces and enclosed areas can trap heat and have very little ventilation so ensure you take regular breaks. Avoid prolonged working in the area, particularly when temperatures are higher and drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. Lack of water and dehydration can lead to confusion and dizzy spells – not an ideal state when working with electricity!
Asbestos does not present a hazard to health unless it is disturbed, cracked or starting to break down. When fibres in asbestos get into the air, it can be inhaled by the people in that area. It is very important to confirm if asbestos is present and if it will be disturbed by routine installation procedures, such as drilling holes to install a smoke alarm. Asbestos can be found in ceiling sheeting, in floor tiles and in some fixatives in window frames, so check before carrying out any work on a ceiling. If there is no other option than to drill into bonded ACM’s, follow the government guidelines on safe work procedures before undertaking any such work.
Once the installation is complete, issue the certificate of testing and safety, and you are free to get on with the next job in hand while ensuring that you follow the above safety checks as you go.
To view our smoke alarms that are compliant with the new Queensland legislation, click here. For general information about the new legislation and how it can affect you, read our article here. If you are a landlord or currently managing a rental property, read our article here.